What is freedom? It’s 1988, and the fight against apartheid in South Africa is at its peak. Narrated by Otelo’s friend New Year, Otelo Burning tells the story of how two friends find their freedom through surfing as black South Africans fight to find their freedom from racism.
Although it has many of the elements of a sports movie, like the training montage and the rookie underdog winning the big championship, Otelo isn’t necessarily a feel-good film. The fact that the protagonist is named Otelo is no coincidence – the movie has many parallels to Shakespeare’s Othello, including a feeling of an epic tragedy. One character tells New Year, “Freedom costs...people have to die.” The film shows the true cost of liberty, both political and personal. There are moments of humor but many more moments of heartbreak.
Otelo is brilliantly acted and directed. Even though the language and culture in the movie are unlike anything I had ever experienced, the scrapbook pages that mark a new “chapter” in the movie and the water on the camera lens during some of the surfing scenes gives it an intimate feel that makes you feel like you are being shown the characters’ home movies. The young actors who play Otelo, New Year, and Otelo’s little brother Ntwe are just wonderful. They create fully realized characters that are likable but still flawed humans.
Apartheid is not something that we Americans know much about, but for a very intimate and human look at an important time in South Africa’s history, I highly recommend Otelo Burning. It may confuse you, it may surprise you, and it will definitely leave you thinking about what it really means to be free.
Seattle International Film Festival
Friday, June 8 | 3:30 PM | Pacific Place
Saturday, June 9 | 6:30 PM } Pacific Place
Director Sara Blecher scheduled to attend both screenings
$5 at the door with your Teen Tix pass